Friday, September 30, 2011

Shopping for the Gardener in Your Life

The pre-wedding landscaping project we undertook last week has prompted today's Shopping Secrets for gardeners.  I use we loosely.... very loosely, in fact.  The plants were provided and planted and irrigated by the fine folks from Rillito Nursery.

Beth, manager and proprietor and all around swell human being,  helped me chose the plants and the guys installed them to our specifications.  We only changed our minds a couple of times, and always before the holes were dug.  There was transplanting of some existing specimens and removal of others and a whole new section of irrigation tubing was uncovered by Juan's tender ministrations and firm desire not to give up.

In the end, it looks beautiful.  I will have the screening from the street that I wanted and TBG can have a squared off hedge of rosemary as soon as these babies grow to maturity next spring.  There will be pictures once it settles down and starts to grow.

Rillito has walls and shelves of everything you need to keep your plants healthy.  That's a given.  But they also have rows and rows of pottery and walls covered with gloves and tools and accessories you never knew you needed until you saw them on the shelf.  They're not web-vendors, but if you live in Tucson why not drive up to Orange Grove and La Cholla and drop in to say "Hi!"  If you let me know you're on your way I'll meet you there.
Garden tools are hard to purchase for another person, even if you are both right handed.  The only tool my leftie Dad and I could comfortably share was the Japanese saw, whose blade swung back and caught in the handle for safety. It went both ways, rightie and leftie.  Ours had a wooden handle but this beauty from Stone Lantern
is much more colorful.  I spent a lovely time looking at their ikebana tools; we used to call those pointy plant holders frogs when I was gardening with G'ma.

Should you really and truly want to buy a tool, and you have a general sense of the size of the gardener's hand, perhaps you'd consider a ratchet pruner, like this Florian one from Honeyman Farms.  Hard wood, thick branches, arthritic hands... there are lots of reasons to use a pruner that doesn't release when you loosen your grip.  The blade stays secure in the cut, you get to shake out your tired wrist and fingers and attack the branch with renewed vim and vigor.

I have one from Cutco, but you have to find a salesman in your area.  Florian is a good brand, and Honeyman Farms does not disappoint as a vendor.
I have to say that this next product put the biggest smile on my face.  How many times have you brought home a plant from the grocery store to fit a certain corner of the house?  If you're like me, it's nearly a weekly event.  Most of them used to be daisies and mums which, in California, I would plant outside for seasonal color when they had spent their blooms on my mantle.  Here in the desert southwest I am more inclined to toss them than to try to nurse them through an impossible-for-their-species summertime.  Instead, I find myself buying greenery.

Dracena marginata and spathophyllum are my current favorites, but they come in such ugly green plastic containers and are often too short for the space I have in mind.  Enter the Adustable Plant Riser pictured here.  The shelf moves up and down. You insert the riser into your own pot and presto! your too small foliage is tall enough to assert its presence with authority.

We all own Fiskars scissors; I'm assuming that their accessories are every bit as thoughtfully created.  Caveat: I have not ordered from them before so I can't speak to delivery or customer service issues which might arise.  I am hopeful that a gift-giver of my acquaintance might purchase one for me this holiday season; if so, I'll be sure to let you know how the transaction was handled next year.
Finally, I'm going to tell you about my favorite on-line shopping spot for gardening.  Gardener's Supply Company has been the purveyor of many of my all-time favorite gifts. They have the most interesting assortment of items, from rakes to greeting cards.  It's a site that will teach you how to create a raised bed and sell you everything you need but the plants and the soil.... and they'll give you suggestions about that, too.

TBG and I put my raised bed together 4 years ago and it's been a source of lettuce and basil and tomatoes and even 2 or 3 chili peppers.  As a disabled person, I can attest to the efficacy of sitting on the edge of the wood and harvesting tomatoes.  Anyone can garden, as I proved to myself this year.  I stayed small, with two tomato plants and a Greek Basil  and our dinners were often complemented with my produce.  Not bad for a girl with 3 bullet holes and a shattered hip, wouldn't you agree?

If you are looking for a way to move from container veggies to an entire salad, Gardener's Supply should be your first stop.

Happy shopping, denizens!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lunch Wars

Penguin and BlogHer Book Club sent me a copy of this book.  I am being paid to review it.  As always, the opinions are my own and are influenced by nothing more than the sound of my own thoughts.

Lunch Wars has a Preface and an Introduction before it gets down to the nitty gritty on page 15.  I have 3 post-its marking things I want to remember in those preliminary pages, and each one of them relates to doing something now.

There's a list of diet related issues and their disastrous effects on children's health that covers more than 2 pages; I couldn't believe it when I turned the page and there were more bullet points over which I could cringe. Her political agenda is made clear in the beginning, too:  Big Food (like Big Pharma, I guess) has put the burden on kids to move around and learn to eat well while offering to fill their little bellies with sweetened, unhealthy, too big choices. Parents are indicted along with television and un-responsive school districts and unrealistic Federal regulations.

It's easy to think of this as an angry polemic, designed to make you wonder why you got out of bed and faced the day. But that would be simplistic.  Sure, Amy Kalafa is furious.  Her movie is Two Angry Moms, after all.  But she's also a cheerleader, a teacher and a guide.  Have a problem?  She's seen it and found the solution.  She lets you listen as the problem-solver tells his own story.

I'd love to have a food service chef who was interested in local sourcing of fresh produce.  I'm in awe of the projects described in Lunch Wars.  Amy Kalafa doesn't let me relax into "but I don't have any of those resources" as I turn my attention to something else.  Amy Kalafa wants me to take action immediately. This is a manual, a how-to, a Girl Scout Leader's Guidebook to fixing what's wrong with your kid's cafeteria.  She tells me about Dana in San Francisco and my brain is off and running, figuring out what to do first.

The book addresses that, too.  There are specific ideas and templates; no busy mom has time to re-invent the wheel and Ms. Kalafa knows that.  Though my children are a decade past school lunches, this book got me thinking and wondering who I could ask .....

Oh, no.... not another project.  Not for me, right now.  But if I were still President of the Board of Trustees of our local school district I know that this would be at the top of my list.  Lunch Wars lays it all out, including answers to snarky questions.  It really seems do-able.

That's the genius of Lunch Wars.  Amy Kalafa has made this an adventure tale, filled with unlikely heroes and evil, obstreperous villains. Sadly, it's not a fairy tale.  And because it's all too real, this book makes all the sense in the world.  This is a problem that has nationwide effects; our children are less healthy than we were and it's not their fault.

It's time for the grown ups to take charge. Lunch Wars shows you how.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wedding Weather Worries

Don't tell Little Cuter or SIR, but there is lightning in the cloudy sky right now.
If today were their wedding day we'd be in deep doo-doo.

The sun tried valiantly for a while

but ultimately it was unsuccessful

Those black bottoms to the fluffiness above them? 
That's rain, pooling up and getting ready to drop on my head.

And so we waited and I fretted.
What would we do?  
Where would we go?
Why was it threatening to rain in late September?

Then I walked to the back of the house and saw this

Where was the threatening sky?
What was all this blueness doing up there?

There were certainly some clouds.

but I had to do some turning and tele-photo-ing to get anything worth worrying about.

And then the sun set and poked me right in the eye.

and this was the result.

Not a bad backdrop for a wedding.
Not bad at all.

I think I am going to stop worrying and start enjoying.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

There Is Less of Her

She's sleeping later and going to bed earlier.  Her chocolate is lasting longer because she seems to be eating less and less.  I'm not sure she remembers my name.

I read a book about old New York and I wanted to ask her if she remembered the Collyer brothers and their reclusive life on Upper 5th Avenue.  I couldn't remember if it was Ezio Pinza or Mario Lanza she'd seen on Broadway in South Pacific; I almost dialed the phone to ask.

A fellow resident of her pod-castle wandered into her apartment.  She became terrified according to the report, and called 9-1-1 to report an intruder.  I'm glad she has her self-protective skills at the ready, but I wonder if I should reverse 6 months of coaxing her to keep her door open and just shut it when I leave her in the morning.

Should I make myself go over every morning?  She's adorable lying in bed, snug as a bug in a rug, blankets held securely under her chin.  Her face is peaceful; without her glasses her blue eyes sparkle.  For a moment, I can forget what is lost and see only what is there.  It's a lovely time of day for both of us.

I think back to the hospital when she had her hip replaced and her mental decline began in earnest.  Her surgeon loved her; she reminded him of his mother.  I'd watch him hold her hand and stroke her shoulder and this woman who is the only person I've ever known to tell me enough while I was rubbing her back, this woman who was so protective of her personal space that a handshake was a big deal, this mother of mine was totally absorbed in his touch.  He complimented her skin and she accepted the words with grace.  They talked about her blue eyes and his mother's eyes and she basked in the knowledge that he thought she was gorgeous.

I was touched but somewhat surprised back then. Now it seems obvious to me.  She was there and sentient and, perhaps, a touchstone to someone he had lost.  It was beautiful and we all knew it.  A Moment.

That's the mommy I want right now.

I want to share searching for folding chairs for the wedding with her.  I want her advice on plant placement in my front yard.  I want her to be next to me in Barnes and Noble, picking out baby gifts for our manicurist's 3rd child, born on my half-birthday.  I want us to sign the card together.

But, as I sang to the Cuters, much to their dismay, You Can't Always Get What You Want.

I hate it when I've got to listen to my own advice.

The only person who would know how to respond to my 7 year old self is the reason my 7 year old self has re-emerged. This is a conundrum of epic proportions. I want her and I can't have her and I'm on both sides of the equation and it is quite confusing. I try to avoid wondering how frightening it is to be G'ma these days, not knowing where she is or why she is where she is.

I'm going to make her a memory book to read each morning along with her other bathroom activities. I've been resisting, because it still seemed that she was connected to the world around her. A tenuous connection, granted, but a connection none-the-less. But now the staff is mentioning that she is increasingly confused, and there's that pesky matter of recognizing me.

She says "Look who's here!" with joy and delight.
Though I'd love "Hi, Suz!" I'd settle for "Hi, sweetheart!"
I don't care what Mick says.... I WANT MY MOMMY!

Monday, September 26, 2011

CTG's Little Hands Playground

The sky could not have been bluer.  
The playground couldn't have been prettier.... or safer.
That's 4' of blue safety material approved by the Injury Free Coalition for Kids. .
No one is going to get hurt here.  

First responders were recognized and admired by schoolchildren.  
Invited guests sat under the Saturday morning sun as sponsors were congratulated and thanked.

As always, there were cameras.  

It left little time for quiet reflection.

Ron Barber thanked the Greens for giving us Christina-Taylor, complimenting them on the wonderfulness that is their family and their strength and their understanding.  More than a few people took out the tissues.

Then, with cameras as accompaniment, Christina-Taylor's big brother cut the ribbon as his mom held it tight, just as she holds both of her children tight within her heart.

And the fun began.

That's Mr. 6 in the orange shirt.  

This patriotic student took CTG's legacy to heart and was rewarded with a Standing-O.  
Those feathers really move when she's happy.

In the spirit of letting you learn from my mistakes, I offer these next two snapshots.
Lesson #1: Beware of a 13 year old with a camera.

Lesson #2: See Lesson #1

It was totally fun!

And in the end, there was laughter and running and squealing.  CTG's butterfly logo will watch over all the other 3rd graders who land on her very safe blue ground and, years from now, long after she'd have gone off to college, I imagine another dark-haired, bright-eyed, curious and passionate little girl asking her teacher about the girl who inspired her playground.


Oh.... were you wondering about that other little girl?  The one with the red-white-and-blue motif?
Don't worry.
The cameras found her, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Shopping for Stationary

Stationary is my favorite gift - both to receive and to give.  I love the notion of  something permanent being penned.  I love the thought of the writing, the re-reading, the folding, the stuffing, the licking and the sticking.  I love writing the notes and reading the ones you've written to me.

Here are some of my favorite places to purchase the good stuff.

Pictures of Hope is the website Linda Solomon set up to sell the photos taken by the 9 and 10 year olds at Prince Elementary School last winter.  Juan was one of the photographers.  I was one of the judges.  The cards are just a tad bigger than 4x6 and are printed on slick heavy weight photo paper.  There is writing on the entire back side; you have to plan ahead if you want to write a long letter.

The photos are touching and some are terrific but they all carry the promise of hope.  Wishes for families to be together and for everyone to have good dreams are found under this picture of Jose's puppies:

The darker side is in evidence as well, as Cashesclay hopes to stop people from killing.  

The adult judges were stunned; where had he found those weapons.  Frighteningly, the other young photo-journalists were quick to point out that they were toys.... couldn't we see and immediately recognize the differences between these in the picture and real guns?  No, we couldn't.  The differences between our lives had never been revealed so starkly.

The cards are available at various locations around Tucson for $20 for 29 cards and envelopes; there's a $7 shipping fee if you want to order them on-line.  Photos of the artists and some of their art can be found here. All proceeds go to the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation.
Paper Culture was at BlogHer'11,  Christopher Wu is the CEO/Co-Founder and he is as impressive in person as his wares are in your hand.  The company plants a tree for every new Facebook fan and with every order. The cards are 4x6 recycled heavy-weight stock, and the designs are fantastic.  Literally, fantastic :

can you see the peacock?

There are many many cards available to personalize for invitations and for different holidays, including Hanukah...

an unusual addition and one for which G'ma and I are very grateful. We are printing our cards this year... she's really not up to signing her name over and over again, let alone remembering who the recipients of the cards might be.  This option will help me assuage my pain as she gradually disappears.  

My favorite part is the kid appropriate stationary.  With a circle just large enough for a little one's love note 

monkey face
(perhaps just signing her name) it starts them out early on writing their own thank you's.  

There's also a category for gender neutral baby announcements.  Methinks that marketing might want to come up with a better name for that part of the product..... a gender neutral baby makes no sense to me at all.
MOTG has some flora art cards.  Bostonian Andrea's sister's old store is also a wonderful place to shop.  I'll hold you in suspense for another Friday.  For now, I'm going to take my achy hip and lie down.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The trucks were here before 8am.

Mountain laurel and texas ebony and fringe flower and ocotillo.

It hurt when the ocotillo and the texas ebony became entwined.  There were many tools and few fingers involved in separating them from one another.

The big boss came out to help me place the plants.  that's him wheeling the dolly.
It wasn't long til we called the bigger boss.
She came out and told us all what to do.
I liked having her around.

Some specimens come in black plastic buckets.

The bigger ones arrive in wooden containers. 

 The metal bands are handy for toting and turning.

This mountain laurel will keep people from staring into the library as I type to you.
At least, that's the plan.
It still has some growing to do.

There were power tools.

There were hand tools.

First they cleared the area of debris and ground cover and stones.

Neatness counts.

Then the power shovel comes out 

and the hole is dug.

The tools and irrigation supplies were kept clean on a tarp.

The soil was replaced, with just a touch of compost.  Although the Master Gardeners would disagree, Rillito Nursery swears by this mild amendment.  Their theory is that the tree has been growing in beautiful amended soil for all of its life.  If you don't give the roots something to reach for they'll never leave the root ball.

They have 2 vitex planted next to one another, one in gently amended and the other in back fill soils.  The amended one looks better, though both are alive.

As Dominique Browning says in Slow Love, you're better off with a So What attitude when it comes to the garden.

Sometimes the hole required a more in-depth approach.

And sometimes it didn't.

Finding the irrigation was a challenge.

By the afternoon, it started to take shape.

The trees were properly staked, like this willow acacia.

They worked til 3 and were rewarded with cash and a Hershey bar.
I'm sitting here smiling at my new treasures.
I don't even feel bad that I couldn't help.

It was nice to watch others do the work for a change.